Originally published January 6, 2011; Updated November 28, 2012
A study funded by the National Institute of Aging and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that 66% of Americans underwent medical testing involving exposure to radiation in the prior two to three years.
This should be a concern since exposure to radiation may result in potentially higher risks of cancer and leukemia, the study suggests.
The study, conducted by researchers at Emory University, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Experimental and epidemiologic evidence has linked exposure to low-dose, ionizing radiation with the development of solid cancers and leukemia,” the study authors reported in a background section of their study report.
“As a result, persons at risk for repeated radiation exposure, such as workers in health care and the nuclear industry, are typically monitored and restricted” to no more than a set maximum level of radiation every year and every 5 years, the authors note. However, “In contrast,” they point out, “radiation exposure in patients who undergo medical imaging procedures is not typically monitored.”
Therefore the researchers studied a sample of 952,420 non-elderly adults (between 18 and 64 years of age) in five health care markets across the United States who utilized medical tests involving exposure to radiation, over a period of two years. They examined data on the study participants’ utilization of these medical tests, in order “to estimate cumulative effective doses of radiation from imaging procedures and to calculate population-based rates of exposure.”
The researchers found that, although the annual average radiation exposure from medical tests, such as X-rays, CT scans and others, was low, nevertheless about 20 percent of the patients were exposed to moderate radiation doses and 2 percent were exposed to high levels of radiation. “Super X-rays” to check for heart problems accounted for nearly a quarter of the total radiation exposure.
“Imaging procedures are an important source of exposure to ionizing radiation in the United States and can result in high cumulative effective doses of radiation,” the researchers concluded.
Other Studies and Reports
An increasing number of studies and expert reports are now opining that while a physician may order a CT scan “just to be safe,” the long term effects may be just as unsafe.
Learn about the dangers of unnecessary medical tests involving radiation, and how to protect yourself:
- Medical Radiation Soars, With Risks Often Overlooked – NYTimes.com, August 20, 2012.
- Unnecessary Medical Tests & Treatments – Consumer Reports Online, June, 2012.
- Choosing Wisely | Overused Tests and Treatments – Consumer Reports.
- Reducing Radiation from Medical X-rays – WebMD for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Tests you don’t need: Boston doctors weigh in on 45 practices to avoid – The Boston Globe, April 4, 2012.
- Facing a CT Scan? Think About Radiation – by Matthew Shulman, U.S. News & World Report
- How to Avoid Unnecessary Medical Tests That Involve Radiation – by By Kristie Leong M.D., for Yahoo Voices.
- Radiation sickness: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, October 23, 2012.
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